On the road: Stephen Strasburg comes to Cleveland

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Strasburg pitches.JPGWhen I first realized that Stephen Strasburg was going to make his second start in beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio, my first thought was: I should get me some tickets. About an hour after that first thought, I got an email from Rob Campbell, future Cleveland Indians GM, inviting me to sit in the Tribe Social Deck for the game. Hmmm, free tickets or no free tickets, what should I do . . . I’m pretty sure I responded to Rob in approximately 4.2 seconds.

As Drew noted yesterday Strasburg was still throwing serious heat and, even if it wasn’t nearly as good as his debut, he didn’t exactly do anything to shake the planet’s confidence in the young man.  I personally enjoyed the hell of the game. Random observations after the jump . . .


I got to Cleveland just before noon after a mostly uneventful drive from Columbus. Sadly, Grandpa’s Cheese Barn (located in Ashland, Ohio, which is seriously billed as “The World Headquarters of Nice People”) was closed. Instead I had to stop at the Goasis travel plaza. The place is absolutely redonkulous. It has a Pizza Hut Express, a Popeyes, a Taco Bell, a Starbucks and a convenience store that is larger than pre-1980s grocery stores. The Goasis is everything that is both so very, very wrong and so very, very right about America. I got a bean burrito and a bottle of water (the bean burrito was the wrong part, but I had one or two cocktails too many on Saturday night, so it was very, very necessary.

Last month when I came to Cleveland for a game the garage I like to park in on Huron Street was charging $10. Yesterday it was $15. The Strasburg Effect is apparently limitless.

Lots of Stephen Strasburg shirts on the plaza between Quicken Arena and the ballpark. I’m sure they weren’t all worn by people who drove up from Washington, so you figure there’s a lot of people caught up in the hysteria. My first thought when I saw them all was whether people would have been snapping up David Clyde shirts back in 1973. Yeah, you and I know Strasburg is a different brand of pitcher than Clyde was, but I kinda doubt a lot of the people in the shirts would have been able to explain the difference. On some level hype trumps everything.

You pick up Social Deck tickets at the Gate B will call. Which is the only will call window at the ballpark.  When I got there, I was greeted by quite a line:
will call line.JPGAnd it stretched way back from what you could see in the pic. Not the smoothest operation, most likely because the Indians forgot what it was like to have a near full house at the joint.  Confession: the “S-T” line was much shorter than the “A-J” line, so I hopped in it, figuring I’d play dumb and say “Social Deck” when I got to the window, even though I knew full well that they had the tickets reserved by last name. The guy at the window just looked at me like I was a piece of garbage and he was right to do so. Still, he got me my tickets because this is the Midwest and we tend to do the weary, put-upon, silently-think-less-of-you thing better than we do open hostility.

Oh, one other will call thing: I overheard the guys behind me in line — a couple of early twenty somethings who could have been athletes — and based on their conversation it was obvious that Strasburg had left them tickets. “They’d better be under his name and not ours, dude, because I’m not waiting in that other line.”

Walking around the concourse for a bit I talked to a middle aged couple wearing Nats jerseys. I asked them if they came here from D.C. They said they were from Strongsville (a Cleveland suburb), and that they were the only Nats fans they knew in Ohio. I asked them how they became Nats fans and the guy said that he worked in Montreal for a while about 15 years ago and got hooked on the Expos, so he just followed them over. I had no idea that any old Expos fans made the jump like that.

Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe and Beyond the Box Score showed up to the Deck with his brother. He had his own will call story: as he was waiting in line he saw the new Cleveland Browns’ QB Colt McCoy being let in the media gate. Paul: “If he’s six feet tall then so am I.” note: Paul is not six feet tall. Good luck Browns fans!  By the way, Paul is just about the best Indians blogger out there, so definitely check him out.

David Huff got the start for the Tribe. His warmup music is “God’s gonna cut you down” by Johnny Cash. I can’t think of a pitcher who deserves that song less than David Huff, but I’m glad to see that his weekly shellackings aren’t affecting his confidence.

When I saw Aroldis Chapman a couple of weeks ago it took him an inning or two to loosen things up and get to the high 90s. Strasburg was there right out of the gate, hitting 99 on his first pitch and then 100 within just a couple. There was an audible “oooh” in Progressive Field when he started bringing that stuff. His windup and motion seems way too easy to be throwing that hard. I’m pretty sure if he took his shirt off it would reveal that he’s powered by an arc generator.

Social Deck.JPGCool thing about the Social Deck: there’s a little flat screen TV right there. Even better: the HD broadcast is on, like, a five second delay, so it was like having instant replay for every pitch. This was absolutely indispensable in figuring out how Strasburg was doing. Even more indispensable for the play in which Adam Dunn barreled Carlos Santana over. Everyone in the crowd was watching the ball go down the right field line and missed the collision the first time. Having the replay of it while in the park rocked.

Travis Hafner hit a homer off Strasburg in the second inning. The ball was down and in and he just golfed it. When he did it, Cousineau and I assumed he guessed at it. After the game Hafner admitted that with this kid you just have to assume the fastball and hope for the best.

A drunk guy in the bleachers behind us was taunting Josh Willingham, who got the start in left field for the Nats. “Hey 1-6!! You suck!!”  Who the hell taunts Josh Willingham? I hate people sometimes.

For all of Strasburg’s great pitches, one was notable by its near absence: the changeup. He threw his heat and he threw tons of mow-to-mid 80s curves, but there were hardly any of those low-90s changeups he featured in his debut. Maybe a few of what I’m calling curves were changeups, but if they were they were much different than before. Did someone tell him to slow it down, or did he just not have the feel for it yesterday?

Browns’ receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs was at the ballpark. When they put him on the jumbotron he got the loudest cheer of the game. It’s been forgotten since the Bernie Kosar days, but Cleveland will always be a Browns town before anything else.

It was widely reported after the game, but Strasburg’s issues with the mound were fairly entertaining. After the fact it became clear that he had a legitimate beef with the condition of the mound, but in the park at the time it wasn’t clear (neither Huff nor any of the relievers, righties or lefties, had any apparent issues).  The boos he got were because everyone thought he was being a prima donna. I think he might have been frustrated that he wasn’t getting borderline calls on the corner either, but no matter how big a wheel he is he’s still a rookie, so he had best get used to that.

I figured that the place would empty out once Strasburg was pulled, but they hung around to watch Drew Storen, who was pretty impressive in his own right, get out of the bases loaded jam in the sixth.  A lot of folks streamed out of there once the sixth ended. In all, there was 32,800 at the game, which is about double what the team could usually expect for a Sunday tilt with the Nats.  The loss sucked for the Tribe, but the money is a nice consolation prize.

All in all a nice day at the Jake. Baseball cold beers, hot sun and the Second Coming of Christ on the mound.  Beats running through the sprinkler, doesn’t it?

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.